First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
June 6, 2004
The Gospel: John 16:[5-11], 12-15
Sermon: "The Trinity"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
[Jesus said to his disciples, "Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.] I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
John 16:[5-11], 12-15
Trinity Sunday - June 6, 2004
Today is Trinity Sunday. On this day we celebrate the presence of God in our lives as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, over the years many people have tried to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. There have been many theories. In one text I reviewed there are six different models that have been proposed by major theologians to try and help explain the concept of the Trinity. They are very different and some are very confusing.
In addition to the theologians, clergy and lay people have tried to explain the Trinity as well. In their explanations they have tried to use a variety of visual aids. I have heard of people using apples and eggs. They say there are three parts. For example, the egg has the shell, the egg white, and the yolk. Three parts making up one egg. Some people have tried to use the human person as an idea. They have tried to say we are intellect, physical and spirit. They have tried to equate the intellect with God as Father, the physical with God as Son, and the spirit with God as Spirit. One of my personal favorites is the use of clover. If we look at a cloverleaf we notice three lobes on each leaf. The three lobes represent Father, Son and Holy Spirit all in one leaf. We even have a symbol in the church that closely resembles the cloverleaf. We find it in our stained glass windows and on our altar hangings and vestments.
All of these examples are attempts by us to understand the nature of God as God has revealed God's self to us. This point is important. God has revealed God's self to us. We have not created God in this image. God has taken the step to reveal God's self to us. Furthermore, God has revealed God's self to us as three persons in one perfect unity. God has been revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of the ways we can begin to understand the three persons is to utilize the Creeds. Please turn with me to the Nicene Creed on page 326 (358). The creed is our confession of faith. Some people believe the creed is archaic and not useful to the church any longer. They believe the creed limits our understanding of God. If we believe the creed is the ultimate explanation of God then I might agree with them. However, what if the creed is our starting point for understanding the nature and the revelation of God? Then the creed becomes very important for us. It becomes a foundation, a building block, for us to begin our journey of faith.
To begin our journey we start with God as Father. God as Father is described as the almighty and the Creator of everything that is. I resonate deeply with God as Creator. As a biologist I spent many hours viewing nature. My job was to observe and record many aspects of life from alligators, to sea turtles, to fox squirrels. Any scientist will tell us that the natural order of the universe is to go from order to disorder. In other words, nature, left on its own goes from order to chaos. In this order mountains will become sand over time. Plants become overgrown unless they are trimmed back. Weeds will overcome grass over time. If the natural movement is to go from order to chaos then how was order established in the beginning throughout the universe? Something began the creation that we know and where we exist. Not only did something begin it, something sustains it. Through scripture and through nature God has revealed God's self as creator. We read the stories of creation. There are similar stories in many cultures. How could these cultures develop these stories and yet have them be so similar? It is too far fetched an idea to believe they traded the stories. We have already explored some of the ways God has revealed God's nature in creation with the apple and the egg. Furthermore, God has revealed God's self in procreation. Do we ever stop to think how amazing the process is that creates life in any plant or animal? It is phenomenal. Two genetic half cells combine to develop into a full organism. Do we truly understand how intricate that process really is? Some people believe it happened just by chance. It is difficult for me to understand that concept. So, one way God has revealed God's self is as God the Father, Almighty and Creator.
The second way God has revealed God's nature to us is through the Jesus, the Son. Jesus is the physical manifestation of God among us. He is God Incarnate. The Creed proclaims that Jesus is begotten and not made. Simply put, Jesus is not a creation of God. We are creations of God. Jesus, even though human in form, is fully human and fully divine. If we look at Jesus' life we see evidence of his divinity. Jesus healed people in ways beyond belief. Jesus' teaching about God are full of the depth of God's love for all of creation. Most of all, Jesus' offering of himself for us is the ultimate expression of God's love for all of God's creation. In no other religion do we see God offering salvation by offering God's own self to make salvation a reality. Finally, it is because of Jesus the Son that we know God as Father. Throughout the scriptures Jesus proclaims he does nothing without the Father. It is the Father that gives him the knowledge and the ability to do what he is called to do. As a result the Father is glorified. Jurgen Moltmann in his book, The Trinity and the Kingdom describes the relationship in this manner: "In eschatology, finally, the Son is the actor; he transfers the kingdom to the Father; he subjects himself to the Father. The Father is the One who receives. He receives his kingdom from the Son; he receives his glory from the Spirit."
From the Son, the second person of the Trinity we move to the Holy Spirit, the third person through which God has been revealed. The Holy Spirit is described as the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. In the scriptures, the Holy Spirit moves over the face of the waters in creation at its very beginning. The Spirit of God moves through the creation as God wills infusing the creation with the presence of God. When Christ is baptized, it is the Holy Spirit who descends upon Christ because God is well pleased. It is the Holy Spirit who dwells within us as we are baptized into the family of Christ. One theologian has described the Holy Spirit as the essence of God's love. As the essence of God's love, the Spirit moves wherever there is love. Here we must be careful. For love has multiple meanings today. Love is often equated with sexual love in our culture. We are not talking about that kind of love at all. We are talking about unconditional love here. We are talking about the kind of love that exists when times are tough and hurt and pain are present. We are talking about the kind of love where a person offers themselves in place of the other. We are talking about the kind of love that sustained Christ even when he was dying on the cross. We are talking about the kind of love that resurrects life from death and creates all things new. The Spirit moves through creation teaching and comforting each one of us in the fullness of the love of God.
So, we have three persons the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God has revealed God's self to us through them throughout the history of humanity and through the creation around us. These three persons are still all one. They are one in substance. That substance is the love of God. God's very nature is love, unconditional love. God has chosen to reveal God's self to us through love. It is God's love that created. It is God's love that redeemed. It is God's love that sustains. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We may not understand the Trinity fully. It is all right if we don't. The Trinity is one of the mysteries of this life we lead right now. However, while we may not understand the fullness of the mystery, we can understand the essence of the mystery. The essence of the mystery is the incredible love of God. One day we might understand the whole of the Trinity. For now, understanding that God has revealed God's self to us and that God's love surrounds us continually is enough. We can thank God for revealing God's self to us and we can thank God for the incredible love offered to us. The blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us forever. AMEN